An Ethiopian court has convicted five people, including three journalists, of terrorism-related charges, a verdict that drew immediate criticism from rights groups.
The court Thursday convicted the journalists, an opposition politician and a fifth person on charges that include conspiracy to commit terrorist acts and participating in a terrorist organization.
Sentencing is set for January 26. They could face the death penalty.
Amnesty International said Thursday it believes “there is no evidence the three men and two women were guilty of any criminal wrongdoing.” The London-based rights group is demanding the immediate and unconditional release of the five.
Human Watch Rights also spoke out saying the ruling violates “free expression” and “due process rights” of the defendants.
Among those charged are the head of a U.S.-based opposition website, Elias Kifle, who was tried in absentia; Wubshet Taye, a former deputy editor-in-chief of the defunct Amharic weekly Awramba Times; and columnist Reeyot Alemu of the independent weekly Feteh.
Human rights and press freedom groups accuse Ethiopia of using its anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent, pointing to the arrest of at least 33 people on terrorism charges since last June.
In December, Ethiopia sentenced two Swedish journalists to 11 years in prison for entering Ethiopia illegally and aiding an outlawed insurgent group.
Government officials, including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, have staunchly denied the accusations, saying police have produced compelling evidence against the defendants.